Pregame #8: Washington Capitals at Edmonton Oilers

Washington Capitals (7-0-0) vs. Edmonton Oilers (4-2-2)
Rexall Place
9:30 PM
TV: Local: Comcast SportsNet (HD) (Game On!), Canada: TSN (HD)
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals:  C Eric Belanger (17 GP, 2010)
Former Oilers:  LW Jason Chimera (130 GP, 2000-04), D Roman Hamrlik (196 GP, 1997-2000)
Opposing Viewpoints:  Copper and Blue

Go West, Young Readers!

The Washington Capitals make their first of 4 trips to Western Canada this weekend, with games in Edmonton tonight and Vancouver on Saturday.  The Capitals have remained undefeated through the first 7 games of the season and should be able to make it 8 tonight.  They have been fortunate to face backup goalies and teams who played the night before, but their greatest asset has been their depth.  The Capitals have been rolling four lines all game long so by the time the third period rolls around, the Capitals can skate their opponents into the ground, but that might not be the case this time.  The Oilers should be a well-rested team and goaltending certainly won’t be an issue. 

The surprising Edmonton Oilers are playing good hockey this season and are keeping themselves in the playoff hunt early.  Their cadre of young forwards is producing, their veterans are making plays, and the goaltending has been solid.   The Oilers are a hungry team and they are trying to end a playoff drought.  There is a lot of raw talent on this team, certainly enough to catch the Caps napping.  The ice at Rexall place is the best in the league, which could give the young Oilers squad an advantage. 

Injury Report: Capitals’ D John Erskine (shoulder surgery) and RW Jay Beagle (consussion) are out.  G Michal Neuvirth (foot) should be available, as G Dany Sabourin was returned to Hershey.  D Mike Green (ankle) is traveling with the team but is questionable, prompting the Caps to recall D Sean Collins from Hershey.
-For the Oilers, RW Ales Hemsky (shoulder) is day-to-day.  LW Darcy Hordichuk (knee) is on injured reserve.  D Ryan Whitney (sprained right knee) is not expected to play.

Three Things To Watch For:

The Magic Kid:  Oilers rookie C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the much ballyhooed 1st overall draft pick in this year’s draft, is living up to his billing through the first 8 games, with 5 goals and 8 points.  The 18-year-old scored a goal in his first game, added a hat-trick in his 3rd game, and the game against the Rangers on Satruday night produced the game-winning goal and an assist.  Playing alongside fellow 1st overall pick Taylor Hall (age 19) and 2008 1st round pick Jordan Eberle (21) who have 7 points each, Nugent-Hopkins likely won’t slow down any time soon.  The Peach Fuzz Line could pose some serious problems for the Caps defense tonight, but the best part for the Oilers is their combined +13 defensive rating means they’re taking care of their own end, too. 

Goalie Duel:  Michal Neuvirth is ready to return, meaning Tomas Vokoun might sit this one out.  If he does play, Vokoun will put his perfect 6-0 record to the test.  As good as his numbers are, a 1.80 GAA, a .944 save percentage, and a shutout, they pale in comparison to what Oilers veteran G Nikolai Khabibulin (3-0-2, 1 shutout) has done, putting up a sparkling 0.97 GAA and a .963 save percentage.  The 3rd oldest goalie in the league at 38, the “Bulin Wall” is one of only 3 active goalies with more games played than Vokoun.  With a healthy body this season, the 4-time All-Star makes the Oilers a true threat to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006. 

Magnus Opus:  Oilers sophomore sniper LW Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson has been silent through eight games this season, a stark contrast to his frequent boyhood linemate, C Marcus Johansson, who has 4 goals (3 game-winners) and 5 points in 6 games.  For years growing up, it was Johansson feeding Paajarvi-Svensson the puck, whether in juniors or any number of international tournaments.  Last season, when both 2009 first round picks were rookies, Paajarvi-Svensson once again held the spotlight, leading all Swedish rookies in goals (15) and points (34) and Johansson finishing second (13 and 27).  Even though Johansson got the best of the Oilers last year, don’t expect Paajarvi-Svensson to remain silent for much longer.